Bacteria Survive Multiple Puncturings of Their Cell Walls

A bacterial cell wall is a highly dynamic multilayer structure interfacing the cytoplasm to the outside environment. It supports a multitude of chemical and biological processes necessary for life. It is therefore postulated that damage to the structure of bacterial cell wall would threaten cell integrity and result in cell death. We tested this hypothesis by repeatedly puncturing the cell wall of a live Gram negative bacterium Salmonella typhimurium at different locations using a sharp atomic force microscope nanotip and conducting multiple viability tests. Our study demonstrated that a S. typhimurium survives repeated puncturings of its cell wall and retains its integrity, viability, and ability to divide. The results are explained on the basis of the concept of the self-repairing of lipid bilayers and the peptidoglycan layer.